Beyond the glitz and the glamour of the headline-dominating Haçienda there once stood the formidable Thunderdome, the lesser talked about nightclub at the heart of the Madchester music scene in the 1980s.
Located at 255 Oldham Road, the Thunderdome was home to Manchester’s somewhat more edgy crowd back in the 1980s and 1990s, the height of the Madchester scene. While the Haçienda was famously difficult to get into and operated a strict dress code, the ‘Dome would welcome people from all walks of life, regardless of their image, their dress sense and, perhaps most prominently, their intentions.
Initially, the Thunderdome remained peaceful despite it’s drug dealer-heavy clientele. However, football hooligans and gang members gradually made the majority of its crowds, leading to a spike in violence, police raids and a notorious reputation that has stuck to this very day.
So, what exactly was a club night in the Thunderdome like?
Well, being only twenty-six years old myself, I don’t have much to say on the matter. So I decided to put on my investigative journalist hat and delve into a Facebook group dedicated only to the most loyal of Thunderdome party goers. And here’s what I found: When you ask a group of seasoned ‘Dome punters on their thoughts and experiences of the nightclub, you tend to get the same kind of response; it was somewhat dangerous but the most welcoming club in Manchester – and a whole lot of fun.
In the responses to my query, there was talk of police raids, police helicopters circling the venue, undercover coppers in smiley face t-shirts, German Shepherds, Scousers trying to steal the doors, sweat dripping from the ceiling, ravers being soaked in black paint, one partygoer being hit by a bus but continuing to rave anyway, friends being made for life and a lot of drugs.
Former ‘Dome regular Cheryl O’Brien told me that she would spend her weekends as a young woman working at the ‘Dome after finishing her day shift over in Affleck’s Palace, noting that she ‘learned some impressive dance moves’ as a result.
“I went to the best dance school in Manchester… Beats the Bolshoi. Pisses all over the Haçienda.”
Underground DJ Jay Wearden also had many tales to tell, having spent the early years of his career performing at the Thunderdome – though not with the most efficient of equipment. Speaking with Proper Manchester, Jay recalled the difficult conditions the venue provided, noting that vinyl records would be ‘soaking wet’ and detailing how there would be ‘wires everywhere.’
He explained: “When I first played there before the fire there were wires everywhere behind the decks and the sound system would trip. People would be going mad for me to turn it back on.
“I didn’t have a clue in those days about sound systems. I would just look at it blankly. But eventually it would kick back on; it actually added to the atmosphere and the excitement.”
However, his role as DJ at the Thunderdome didn’t just include loud music and late nights; it came with a sense of danger, too. He recalled: “In those early days it still felt dangerous… we were rebels on the edge of society. So everything not being slick and a bit ‘Heath Robinson’ was part of the what made it all so authentic.
Jay remembers when the police raided the club one Thursday night and made him turn the music off before ‘proceeding to treat all the hardened clubbers like school children.’
“The people who went to the ‘Dome on a Thursday were the real heads of Manchester at that time, so they responded with the commands with ridicule. I remember a police inspector pranced in with a silver topped cane and started to address the crowd like a headmaster at an assembly. You can only imagine the response to him.
“Every time someone shouted something they would be lead away until they gave up as they would have had to arrest a few hundred people.”
Who is else is feeling that their ‘wild’ nights in PopWorld weren’t so wild after all?
Anyway, the exact closing date of the Thunderdome remains uncertain, but the building was demolished in 2010 and today, the site remains unoccupied.
However, the unique spirit of the venue lives on through the dedicated partygoers from it’s glory years, who continue to come together via social media to reminisce and share their unique stories (the ones they can remember, that is) from their nights within the ‘Dome.
And next month, the ‘Dome will be coming back to life (kind of) with Hidden’s event, The ThunderDome Rebuilt on September 11th – police raids and sweaty ceilings not guaranteed.
Jay Wearden has written a book detailing his experiences working as an underground DJ in Manchester and beyond. Find it here.
The inspirational story of Kirsty Howard on what would have been her 26th birthday
Through her tireless campaigning, Kirsty secured the future of Francis House Children’s Hospice
On September 20th 1995, Kirsty Ellen Howard was born in a Wythenshawe hospital and – little did she know at the time – would go on to change the future for thousands of children.
Her start to life was a turbulent one; Kirsty was born with an extraordinarily rare condition in which her heart was positioned back to front, causing the misplacement of her internal organs.
The condition, a form of ‘situs ambiguus’, is inoperable and requires extensive treatment, including a constant external supply of oxygen. The condition is so rare, in fact, that new-born Kirsty was the only person in the UK – and just the second in the whole world – to be diagnosed with it.
The first four years of her life were spent in and out of hospitals and at the age of four doctors gave Kirsty and her family the devastating prediction that she had just six weeks left to live.
But, astonishingly, Kirsty defied those odds and went on to not only live for another sixteen years, attend school and achieve GCSE’s, but to raise millions of pounds for Francis House Children’s Hospice in Didsbury.
Kirsty initially gained national attention when she was appointed as England’s mascot during their 2002 World Cup game against Greece. Aged just six, Kirsty walked out onto the pitch with her 20kg oxygen tank and holding the hand of then-captain David Beckham, prompting commentator John Motson to call her ‘the bravest person on the pitch’.
The following year, Kirsty and Beckham handed the baton to the Queen at the opening ceremony of the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester.
And in 2003, Kirsty started the first Great Manchester Run and took part in the race, wearing the number one vest in her wheelchair. She took part in the race every year following. Kirsty was subsequently awarded the Helen Rollason Award by the BBC in 2004 for her courage and determination, as well as the Child of Courage award and the Pride of Britain award.
While all of these achievements may seem incredible enough to most of us, for Kirsty, they didn’t even begin to scratch the surface because her most notable act came in the form of a charity appeal for Francis House Hospice, a Didsbury-based hospice originally opened by Princess Diana in 1991.
Named ‘The Kirsty Club’, Kirsty’s campaign was launched to expand and improve the services the hospice offered – primarily support for families with terminal or life-threatening illnesses – with celebrity supporters of the appeal including Gloria Hunniford, Mohamed Al-Fayed, Davina McCall, and opera singer Russell Watson.
David Ireland, the Chief Executive of Francis House, said of Kirsty’s fundraising: “Francis House had struggled to meet its running costs for many years, Kirsty’s fundraising changed that and gave us a measure of security that allowed us to expand and develop our service.
“Hundreds of children, young people and their families owe a tremendous debt to the young lady whose face made Francis House a household name.”
Over the years, Kirsty’s fundraising totalled to a staggering £7.5 million, which helped to give thousands of Manchester’s children, teenagers, young adults and their families the help and support they needed in their times of greatest need.
In the final years of her life, Kirsty was a proud auntie and had been studying childcare at college with the hopes of one day becoming a teacher for children with special needs. However, one month after her twentieth birthday on October 24th 2015, Kirsty passed away peacefully, surrounded by her family at Manchester Royal Infirmary.
Tributes poured in for Kirsty after the news of her death broke, including from the then-Prime Minister David Cameron, who wrote on Twitter: “I’m sad to hear Kirsty Howard has died. She was an amazing person with boundless passion who did so much good.”
David Beckham also posted a tribute, sharing a photo of him with Kirsty and writing on Instagram: “Words cannot describe how amazing this young lady has been over the years. Kirsty has been defying doctors for many years and whilst doing that she has been raising millions of pounds for terminally ill children.”
And lastly, Francis House, whom Kirsty raised so much money for over the years, shared their own tribute, writing simply: “We cannot express enough our humble thanks and gratitude to an incredible young woman.”
Rest in peace, Kirsty Howard.
The future of Mother Macs: How the iconic Northern Quarter boozer is embracing its gruesome past
We caught up with Mother Macs’ current landlady, Lauren Grimshaw, who detailed her plans for the future of the historic pub
Nestled down a back alley in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, Mother Macs and its bloody history has somehow managed to stand the trying test of time.
In perhaps the most perilous period ever experienced by pubs and restaurants, the extraordinary boozer has managed to survive and reopen its doors, despite numerous lockdowns, social distancing measures and, perhaps most poignantly, a rather murderous past.
This is why, for many, its unwavering popularity among locals is somewhat of a surprise – as the plaque on the front of the building states, on June 18th, 1976, the pubs landlord Arthur Bradbury went on a murderous rampage after receiving an eviction notice. He killed his wife Maureen, his six year old daughter Alison, his step-sons James and Andrew, and the cleaner, who happened to stumble upon him in the act.
Then, he set fire to the pub to cover his tracks, only to kill himself in the blaze.
For many establishments, this kind of horrific event would signal an end to not only trading, but to the desire to ever set foot through the premises again.
But for Mother Macs’ newly appointed landlady, Lauren Grimshaw, it was one of the many things that drew her to the new role. Lauren, a mother of two from Clayton, is studying a degree in criminology and psychology, so it would seem she and the pubs dark history go hand in hand. She told Proper Manchester: “The history was the main thing I wanted it for. People do come in occasionally after hearing about what happened with ‘Mother Macs and the killer landlord’ or reading about it on the sign outside.”
Lauren, who was given the opportunity to take over the pub and the ten-room hotel upstairs by its former owner just six weeks ago, admitted that she does believe in ghosts, but it yet to experience any paranormal happenings. She explained: “I’m all about ghost hunts and all things paranormal. When I walked in on my first shift, I made it clear that I wasn’t there to cause trouble, I wasn’t there to offend anything that might be there.
“There hasn’t been many ghostly happenings, apart from the television sometimes switching itself on and the door closing by itself.”
But putting murderous landlord hauntings to one side, Lauren noted that the most prominent feature of Mother Macs is the clientele. She said: “My favourite thing about the pub is the people. It’ll always be the people. They’re what make Mother Macs. All my regulars who have been drinking in here for forty years still come in.
According to Lauren, Mother Macs stands out in the Northern Quarter – which is undisputedly cluttered with bars and pubs – because it doesn’t fit in with the general ‘norm’ of the area. She explained: “There are so many ‘trendy’ bars these days, whereas Mother Macs is a proper little boozer, a proper little pub, and I think Manchester is missing that. People don’t want to go and drink wine and cocktails, people want to come in and just have a cold pint.”
And the ‘proper little boozer’ approach is clearly working – just last weekend, a group of men from Bedford had booked to stay one night in the newly refurbished hotel upstairs, named The Avenues and Alleyways, only for them to extend their stay by two nights after falling in love with Mother Macs and the regulars.
She said: “The amount of connections I’ve made with the people who come into the pub is just unreal. Weekends in particular are amazing – some people come in on their own because they know as soon as they walk in, they’re made to feel comfortable. It’s not a pub, it’s a family, and that’s how I want it. I want every single person to feel comfortable and at home.”
And feel welcome they do – the watering hole hosts people from all walks of life, with Lauren vowing for every customer to feel welcome and included, regardless of where they’re from or who they are.
And even now, the pub continues to get people talking; earlier this week, Mother Macs went viral after we shared a photo of its beer garden, which consists of a couple of table and chairs thrown together next to a huge industrial bin down Back Piccadilly – ‘the most Manc beer garden ever’, as we called it.
So, what’re the plans for the future? Lauren told us that Mother Macs has a massive focus on football and, despite it historically being a Manchester City pub, she’s working hard at making it an inclusive space for all football fans (United fans, basically.) She said: “When I took over, I didn’t want it as a predominantly City pub as not to exclude any other fans. City home game, City fans come in. United home game, United fans come in. And on Derby days, well if they can sit amicably together, they can.”
Lauren’s also organising a karaoke and DJ for weeknights to get the place lively throughout the week – at the moment, the sound system operates on a strict Spotify playlist system, which has proven to be a huge hit with locals and weekend revellers alike.
For updates and news, follow Mother Macs’ official Facebook page.
Mother Macs, 33 Back Piccadilly, Manchester M1 1HP
020 8089 8579
Black Shuck: The ghostly dog who haunts Manchester Cathedral
There have been numerous sightings over the decades…
Over the decades, there have been repeated rumours of strange going ons within the historic walls of Manchester Cathedral, and the spirit of a ghostly dog roaming the corridors.
Now, here at Proper Manchester, we love a good haunting story – whether it be paranormal sightings in an old Liverpool hotel or the haunting of the infamous Blackpool Pleasure Beach Ghost Train, we’re all over it like a rash.
So, when the ghostly rumours of Manchester Cathedral were brought to our attention, we got stuck straight in. But first, let’s start with the basics: Grade 1 listed and dating back to 1421, Manchester Cathedral is a vast Medieval, Gothic structure complete with crypts and stunning stained glass. It’s a truly astonishing building, regardless of your religious status and, in it’s 600-year life, it has welcomed millions of visitors from all over the world.
However, putting the beautiful interior and rich history to one side, there’s something a little more sinister about the Manchester city centre building – according to a number of people, the it is actually haunted.
Now, there are many great ghost stories from this ancient cathedral, for example; a man was once said to be praying in the building after all other churchgoers had gone home. Mid-prayer, however, he was shocked to see his sister, Fanny, standing at the top of the cathedral as he believed that she was many miles away. Assuming his sister had come to Manchester to surprise him, the man rose to his feet and called out to her, only to see her vanish before his eyes. The following morning, he was informed that Fanny had passed away the previous evening. Anyone scared yet?
However, there’s one story that is told more than others, and that’s the tale of an old demonic dog known commonly as Black Shuck.
Now, Black Shuck is a whole new story in itself – Black Shuck is the generic name for a giant black greyhound type dog that would haunt villages back in the day and basically cause a whole load of havoc. One town legend from 1577 says this giant hellhound killed two people who were kneeling in prayer after knocking down the church doors amid a flash of lightning. Spooky stuff, I know.
The first known written text describing a Black Shuck in England goes all the way back to 1127 in the town of Peterborough, with witnesses said that around twenty to thirty of these hellish hounds lurked in the area through Lent all the way to Easter, a period of about fifty days.
And they weren’t mistaking it for a wild pack of actual, real-life dogs – anyone who has claimed to have witnessed a Black Shuck described it as a large dog with black, mangy fur and much larger-than-normal, with some even as big as a horse. Some report Black Shucks to have also been foaming at the mouth, just incase you weren’t spooked yet.
But while the Black Shuck is believed by many to be a creature of the underworld and a sign of impending death, you need not worry – legend has it that Manchester Cathedral’s own Black Shuck was actually exorcised under the bridge crossing the River Irwell a couple of decades ago.
And I think the exorcism worked because today, the Manchester Cathedral is quite the opposite of it’s ghostly, demonic dog adorned state – today, the cathedral stands as a place of solace for people from all walks of life. Just this year, it launched a ‘listening post’, an initiative that aims to tackle the stigma surrounding mental health and loneliness. How lovely is that?
So yeah, try not to stress too much about getting chomped by a demonic dog from the underworld when you’re next walking by.